It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids. 2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors. (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!) If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!
Today… Megan Frazer, author of SECRETS OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY!
Secrets of Truth & Beauty — When Dara Cohen was little, she was crowned Little Miss Maine. That was then. Now Dara’s seventeen and she’s not so little anymore. That’s just one of her many problems. Another is that her control-freak mom won’t get off her case about anything. Yet the one that hurts the most is the family secret: Dara has an older sister her parents tried to erase from their lives.
Welcome, Megan! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer. In sixth grade language arts, we did an assignment where the teacher read the first half of a scary story, and we had to write the ending. Mine was super gory and scary! When the teacher read the actual ending, I was disappointed in it, and thought mine was better. I had been writing for fun for as long as I could remember, but that was the moment when I first started to think about myself as a writer and doing it professionally.
What books did you love when you were a kid? I read constantly. I had an upstairs book, and a downstairs book, and my brother always said not to bother even trying to get my attention when I was reading (full disclosure: sometimes I was pretending I couldn’t hear him). So, it’s very hard for me to pick a favorite. Here are a few middle grade novels off the top of my head, but I know I will forget some. Tuck Everlasting, Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, the Ramona books, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Wait Till Helen Comes.
Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life? I think all of my teachers did a great job. In particular, the elementary school program focused on writing as a bridge to reading. My teachers encouraged us all to write, even my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hilliker. In high school I found support from a writing teacher, Kay Morgan, and one of my English teachers, Liz Dodge, who mentored me on my senior project, a picture book about vegetarian dragons that was a collaboration with a friend of mine.
Now that I’m working in a high school, I see how much passion and effort teachers give to their students, their subjects, and their classes. I think I was a grateful student, but I could have been much more so. This is a tough job, and I didn’t realize how much I got from my teachers until well after I graduated. That’s one thing, though, that has been cool about getting published. One of my former teachers, Liz Whaley, now works at the Water Street Book Store, and I was able to give her a copy of my ARC and let her know how my education allowed me to become a writer.
Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge. When and where do you write? Do you have any special rituals?
I am a full time school librarian, and have an infant, so yes, finding time is very difficult. I stay at work half an hour every day to work on writing, be it actual writing, or, more recently, interviews like this one. Half an hour may not seem like much, but it’s 30 minutes of actual writing: not surfing the web, checking email, what have you. I got the idea from the article Writing In the Age of Distraction by Cory Doctorow (http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2009/01/cory-doctorow-writing-in-age-of.html).
(I highly recommend this article for all creative-types.)
Of course, having the summers off is also a big help. There’s no way I would have completed the draft of Secrets of Truth & Beauty without it.
Your favorite strategy for revision?
It depends on what kind of revision you mean. When I am still working on it myself, I try to do the “put it away for at least a month” thing. This works best if I’ve given it to a friend to read. Then I can come back to it with a new eye.
In terms of revisions with my editor, I tend to work chronologically. I start with the line edits, and just go through doing them, which gets me back into the book. Then when I come to a more substantial fix, I either do it then, or put it aside to really focus on later.
Best advice for young writers?
Live. Get out into the world and things that challenge you and maybe make you a little bit uncomfortable. I believe that the more experiences you have, the wider your perspective grows, and that can only improve your writing.
What were the best and worst parts of writing your debut novel?
Writing the first draft is always so freeing. I’m not an outliner, so for me it’s about discovery – I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m also a very analytical person, so going back and revising is fun for me, too. I like to see what’s there, strip away what doesn’t belong, and build up the strengths.
The worst part was when it felt like it was never going to be finished. I had countless rounds of revisions. It was great to have such a supportive editor. She was demanding, but in a good way. It was like I was running a marathon, with her a few steps ahead, saying, “Just a little bit more! You can do it!” And in the end, all of the work was worth it.
How did you find your agent and/or editor? Would you like to share your successful query letter?
My query letter (with notes from my agent!) is up on the web for all to see right here: http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com/2008/11/sara-queries-that-worked.html
In retrospect, I’m a bit embarrassed by the name-dropping, but I’d read somewhere that’s the way to do it, so I did. I’m not sure that it helped at all.
Thanks for sharing your journey, Megan!
You can read more about Megan at her website, and of course, you can ask for SECRETS OF TRUTH AND BEAUTY at your local independent bookseller. You can also order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!